Blog Home > Blog > Understanding Dementia: Behavior Management Part 2 – Managing Erratic Behavior

As a family caregiver, you may be all too familiar with the challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia. One of the most difficult aspects of this journey can be managing erratic behavior. It can be difficult to understand what is causing your loved one’s behavior and how best to respond, but finding effective strategies for managing erratic behavior is crucial for the well-being of both your loved one and yourself.

What causes dementia-related erratic behavior?

To better understand the causes of erratic behavior in dementia, it’s helpful to understand the impact that brain changes have on behavior. “Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in cognitive function, including memory, language, and problem-solving ability.” (Source)

The brain is the main body part affected by dementia, and our brain, habits, and perception of the world around us control our behavior. This is why dementia can (and commonly does) lead to changes in behavior. In addition, it can also affect emotional regulation and impulse control, which can lead to changes in personality and an increase in erratic behavior. But it goes beyond just their brain on the inside. Erratic behavior is a common sign that their needs aren’t being met, and they can’t quite communicate how or why. (Source)

What are the triggers for erratic behavior?

There are many potential triggers for erratic behavior in those with dementia. Here is a quick-reference guide for common dementia triggers:

  • Confusion
  • Discomfort (such as pain or hunger)
  • Frustration
  • Overstimulation
  • Change or loss (such as a change in routine or the loss of a familiar person or object)
  • Underlying physical or mental health issues (such as infection or untreated depression)


As we touched on, there are triggers beyond dementia itself. For example, it’s also possible that underlying physical or mental health issues may be contributing to erratic behavior. They may have pain or an infection they can’t articulate, which can cause agitation and confusion. It’s important to consider all potential causes and address any underlying issues as necessary.

It’s important to note that every person with dementia is unique and may have different triggers. It may be helpful to try to identify any specific triggers that may be affecting your loved one, as this can inform your approach to managing their behavior. In addition, it’s important to address any underlying physical or mental health issues that may be contributing to erratic behavior.

Strategies for Prevention and Management

Now that we’ve discussed some of the causes of erratic behavior in dementia, let’s talk about strategies for prevention and management. 

Assess the living environment

One of the most important things you can do is to create a supportive environment for your loved one. This might include removing clutter and hazards from the home, providing clear and consistent communication, and using visual cues to help with orientation and understanding.

Create a routine

Establishing a daily routine and providing structure can also be helpful in managing erratic behavior. This can include regular meal times, scheduled activities, and opportunities for socialization.

Identify and address triggers

If you’re able to identify potential triggers for your loved one’s behavior, it can be helpful to try to address or minimize them. For example, if loud noises tend to agitate your loved one, you might try to limit exposure to loud noises or provide earplugs or headphones as a way to reduce discomfort.

Practice effective communication

Effective communication is also key when it comes to managing erratic behavior in dementia. Try to use simple and clear language and provide explanations and reassurance when your loved one is confused or upset. Using nonverbal cues, such as touch or eye contact, can also be helpful in providing comfort and understanding. We have a full article on this topic for you here.

Find additional resources

In addition to these strategies, it’s also important to seek professional support and resources. A dementia care specialist, our dedicated caregiver resources, our California Family Caregivers Facebook group, or a support group for caregivers can be invaluable in providing guidance and support.

Don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor

There may be times when your loved one’s behavior becomes more severe or sudden changes occur. If this happens, it’s important to seek medical attention. These changes could be a sign of a more serious underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Common Behavior Patterns by Stage of Dementia

Stage of DementiaCommon Behaviors
Early StageMild memory loss and difficulty finding the right words Difficulty with planning or organizing Mild personality changes, such as becoming more anxious or depressed Difficulty with unfamiliar tasks or environments Increased reliance on routine and familiar surroundings Mild to moderate difficulty with decision making
Mid-StageModerate to severe memory loss, including forgetting recent events and people Difficulty with communication and finding the right words Difficulty with dressing, bathing, and other self-care tasks Increased difficulty with decision making and problem-solving Personality changes, including increased agitation, aggression, or apathy Increased difficulty with unfamiliar tasks or environments Increasing need for structure and routine May exhibit repetitive behaviors or wandering
Late StageSevere memory loss, including forgetting personal history and familiar people Difficulty with communication and understanding language Difficulty with all self-care tasks and may need assistance with eating and using the bathroom Personality changes may become more pronounced, including increased agitation, aggression, or apathy May exhibit repetitive behaviors or wander frequently May experience delusions, hallucinations, or other changes in perceptionMay become bedridden and require full-time care

It’s important to insert the reminder that every individual with dementia is unique and may experience different behaviors at different stages of the disease. This table is intended to provide a general overview of common behaviors, but it is not exhaustive. If you have specific concerns about your loved one’s behavior, it’s always best to speak with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance.

Closing Thoughts

Managing erratic behavior in dementia requires a multifaceted approach. By understanding the causes of erratic behavior, creating a supportive environment, establishing a routine, identifying and addressing triggers, and using effective communication techniques, you can find strategies that work for both you and your loved one. Don’t hesitate to seek out professional support and resources to make the caregiving journey easier.

As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself as well. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s okay to seek additional support and resources, such as a geriatric care manager or respite care, to help you manage the demands of caregiving.

If you’re providing care to a loved one, we invite you to check out our free resources. To get more information about the resources we have available to you as a California caregiver, contact us at the California Caregiver Resource Center nearest to you or join CareNav for free today.

Join our Facebook Group

If you’re looking for a community of caregivers that truly understands what you’re going through. A group you can turn to when you have questions, frustrations, or need advice? Join our California Family Caregivers Facebook group today.
Our California Family Caregivers Facebook group is a safe space for caregivers across different communities in California to speak about their caregiving journey and interact with one another. Join us today.

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